Alexandre Bissonnette, the man accused of killing six people and wounding 19 others at a mosque in Quebec City Sunday, had a reputation for expressing support for far-right and nationalist ideologies on social media, but did not come across as violent in his posts.
The 27-year-old Laval University student, believed to be the sole suspect in the mosque attack, was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted weapon Monday. Though he was not previously known to police, Bissonnette had a reputation for being a so-called “troll” on social media, expressing support for French nationalist Marine Le Pen, whose party has been described by its critics as xenophobic due to its strong stance against mass immigration to France.
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“He was someone who made frequent extreme comments in social media denigrating refugees and feminism. It wasn’t outright hate, rather part of this new nationalist conservative identity movement that is more intolerant than hateful,” François Deschamps, who runs a Facebook page aimed at supporting refugees in Quebec City, told The Globe and Mail.
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Deschamps told The Globe and Mail he saw Bissonnette express anti-immigration views in his online posts, specifically commenting on the number of Muslim refugees making their way to Europe. He also described the suspect as a “troll,” speaking to Le Soleil.
“I wrote him off as a xenophobe. I didn’t even think of him as totally racist, but he was enthralled by a borderline racist nationalist movement,” Vincent Boissoneault, a fellow Laval University student, told the newspaper.
Bissonnette was studying political science and anthropology at the University of Laval but had been expelled, a university official told Global News.
Former classmates cast him as a “nerdy outcast” who knew a lot about history, current events and politics.
On Facebook, Bisonnette “liked” a number of pages, including the official page for Marine Le Pen, Islam critic Richard Dawkins and Donald Trump. However, he also liked pages supporting the NDP and former leader Jack Layton.
His Facebook account was suspended Monday.
Bissonette was a member of the Cadet Program in the Quebec City area between 2002 and 2004, according to a statement released by Cadets Canada.
Police have not released a motive for the shooting but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and officials in Quebec have called it an act of terrorism.
“We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of worship and refuge,” Trudeau said in an emotional speech in the House of Commons. “It is heart wrenching to see such senseless violence. Diversity is our strength, and religious tolerance is a value that we, as Canadians, hold dear.”
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Though Bissonette was outspoken online, those who knew him personally were shocked to learn he was accused of carrying out the attack.
“At that time, he didn’t seem like a violent person. Not at all,” classmate Jean-Michel Allard Prus told The Toronto Star.
Six people were killed and 19 other injured in the attack. The victims were identified as Mamadou Tanou Barry, Abdelkrim Hassane, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Azzeddine Soufiane and Ibrahima Barry.
Five remain in hospital, two of them listed in critical condition. Doctors expect the two victims in critical condition will recover from their injuries.
— With files from Global News reporter Andrew Russell and Reuters